After three years, satellite finally ready to receive

Planet Labs was granted a full operating license of their antennae on March 29

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After receiving a long-awaited full operating license for their ground station site in Inuvik, Planet Labs is ready to put their satellite receivers to use at last.

An image of Planet Labs’ Inuvik ground station site, located at the Canadian Satellite Ground Station Inuvik (CSGSI). Photo courtesy of Planet Labs
An image of Planet Labs’ Inuvik ground station site, located at the Canadian Satellite Ground Station Inuvik (CSGSI). Photo courtesy of Planet Labs

The San Francisco-based Earth imaging company was granted a full operating license from Global Affairs Canada on March 29, almost three years after submitting its initial application.

“From when we first started talking to the regulators and made commitments to procure antenna hardware and laid out a timeline for installation and all that, to when we actually got the license from Global Affairs, it was a little under three years,” said Mike Safyan, the VP of launch for Planet Labs.

Safyan added that while the company was stuck in regulatory limbo, they were forced to obtain similar ground station capacities at other sites to make up for what they were planning to use at Inuvik’s site.

“That incurred a lot of additional expense that we weren’t initially budgeting for, and caused a lot of uncertainty with respect to how we should be expanding our ground station network because we were just waiting to see what would happen with Inuvik,” he said.

The company selected Inuvik as their location for a ground station site, he continued, because most of Planet’s satellites are operating in near-polar orbits.
“In addition, with the installation of the Mackenzie Valley Fibre Line, that provides a fast and secure backup for all the data we’re downloading,” he said. “Across the three different fleets, we’re downloading terabytes of data a day.”

Planet’s receivers are located at the Canadian Satellite Ground Station Inuvik (CSGSI), which is managed by New North Networks. Four of Planet’s antennas are dedicated to their Flock constellation of small satellites, while receivers owned by Norway’s Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) help to support Planet’s larger SkySat satellites.

“When we launch a large number of Dove satellites together, we call it a Flock. Our Flock of Doves numbers a little over a hundred active imaging satellites at any given time,” said Safyan. “With that satellite fleet, we’re able to image the entire Earth’s land mass every day. The images are medium-resolution, and are around three to four meters per pixel.”

He added that their fleet of SkySat satellites, however, can provide high-resolution imagery at roughly 0.8 metres per pixel.

“We have 15 of those flying in orbit right now,” he said.

Thanks to the full operating license, he said the company can utilize Inuvik’s site to its full capacity.

“It makes our operations more efficient. We built these ground station sites for the long term, so as we develop and improve our satellites and launch newer generations, Inuvik will be able to support those as well,” he said. “It will be one of our most heavily used sites in our network, that’s why it was so important for us to complete the licensing for it.”

An official grand opening ceremony for Planet’s ground station in Inuvik is in the works, but a date is yet to be determined, he said.

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